By Christopher Bidwell
By 2024, the FAA predicts that the U.S. commercial aviation industry will transport over 1 billion passengers annually. With increasing passenger and cargo volumes and limited resources in the US, Canada and internationally, a risk-based aviation security system just makes sense. TSA has developed and implemented a risk-based known traveler program, PreCheck, which utilizes available data to assess risk and focus screening resources on those passengers about whom the least is known, and Transport Canada has a similar system.
We also need to abandon the “one-size-fits-all” approach to regulation and transition from prescriptive to performance-based security measures, and this is an area where Transport Canada is leading the charge.
International coordination and collaboration is critical to allow us to formalize risk-based initiatives, address the global aviation security challenge and develop a sustainable aviation system where passengers can transit seamlessly across international borders.
This afternoon, at the ACI-NA Annual Conference in Calgary, a panel of senior representatives from TSA, Transport Canada, ACI Europe and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University tackled these and other topics.
In discussing the programs TSA has launched to transition from a one-size fits all approach to aviation security, Doug Hofsass, associate administrator for risk-based security, discussed the expansion of TSA’s known traveler program, PreCheck, which is currently operational at 23 airports, and the plan to further expand the program to an additional 12 airports in 2012. To date, more than 2.7 million passengers have experienced expedited screening through TSA PreCheck screening lanes and TSA anticipates screening the 3 millionth passenger next week.
In order to expand the number of passengers eligible to participate in PreCheck and in accordance with an ACI-NA recommendation, Hofsass encouraged enrollment in Customs and Border Protection’s international trusted traveler programs, Global Entry and NEXUS.
Hofsass also mentioned the known crewmember program, through which uniformed pilots are subjected to identity-based screening and provided expedited access to sterile areas. The program is currently in place at 20 airports. By the end of the year, TSA plans to have the program in place and operational at 31 airports, including 28 Category X airports.
Another expansion of its risk-based security initiative involves enhancements to the screening of passengers 70 and older, who no longer need to remove light coats and jackets or their shoes. This program also allows children 12 and under to keep their shoes on when being screened at security checkpoints. After a pilot test at several large airports, the program was expanded to airports nationwide.
Although rudely interrupted by the clanging of a fire alarm bell being tested during the session, Erin O’Gorman, director general, aviation security, Transport Canada, mentioned that Canada has already begun to implement several initiatives outlined in the Beyond the Border Action Plan, jointly signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barrack Obama. First, special lanes have been put in place at Canadian Pre-Clearance airports for NEXUS members. Second, Canada and the U.S. reached an agreement to mutually recognize their cargo security programs. Third, but definitely not last, Canada and the U.S. are collaborating on the development of known and trusted traveler programs, something that will allow Canadian NEXUS card holders to benefit from TSA PreCheck at some point in the future.
It was also refreshing to hear O’Gorman recount a recent discussion with Transport Canada inspectors who reported that the relationship with industry has transformed into a security partnership.
O’Gorman also raised the potential challenge of resilience of the aviation system in the face of some threat we haven’t seen or considered, and suggested that the political will to accept a certain amount of risk may be tested in the face of a future incident. Hopefully, the progress that has been made in advancing risk-based initiatives will not be jeopardized by some unforeseen event.
If and when we in the aviation community are faced with the next incident, we simply cannot abandon risk-based security measures. To do so would result in a regression to the costly and inefficient one-size-fits-all approach we striving diligently to abandon.
Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe director general, mentioned that our system is still very reactive, particularly in Europe, and therefore, there are a lot of inefficiencies even though a substantial amount of data and intelligence information exists which could be leveraged to inform and focus limited screening resources.
In Europe, airports – not the government(s) – provide almost all the aviation security operational costs. Indeed, 29 percent of airports operating costs and 41 percent of airports staff are security related. With security costs increasing exponentially, there is even more need for a coordinated approach to aviation security.
Richard Bloom, associate vice president, academics, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University indicated that risk-based security can be a challenge in the absence of information or data. He also suggested that most people tend to focus on the defensive security layers as opposed to offensive “tools” such as intelligence information, which can be utilized to help eradicate the threat.
Clearly, based on several recent events, we need to leverage every aspect of available intelligence information. Enhanced coordination and communication between countries, sharing pertinent security information can certainly help in filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle thus helping to mitigate threats.
Bloom also indicated that terrorism can be very effective because of the psychological impact on the survivors. He also mentioned that security is always an unfinished task.
As aviation traffic continues to grow, we need a risk-based aviation security system that uses available data to more effectively balance customer service and detection. Information is available at multiple points that can be readily utilized to help focus limited security resources on those about which the least is known. Collectively, we need to work together – across international borders – to address the global aviation security challenge through risk-based security measures and programs.